Year of Theatre in Russia

Year of Theatre in Russia

Year 2019 has been declared the Year of Theatre in Russia. The Presidential Library’s collection, marking this event, reveals various aspects of the development of theatre in Russia: the history of theatre in pre-Petrine Rus, theatrical traditions of the peoples of Russia, work of theatre management bodies in the Russian Empire, current search for new forms and genres, norms and rules for actors and other professions associated with theatre, decoration and organization of performances, theatrical life in the regions. The highlight of the collection is personal materials, such as biographical data on directors, actors and other representatives of theatre.

The collection includes official documents, archival materials, monographs, serial publications, graphic materials, audiovisual resources. It is based on the array of archival documents from collection 497 "The Direction of Imperial Theatres of the Ministry of the Imperial Court" of the Russian State Historical Archive. The collection also involved documents provided by libraries, archives, higher educational institutions, museums and scientific organisations, theatres, cultural centres and foundations. The participating libraries are: the Library of the Presidential Executive Office of the Russian Federation, the Russian State Library, the National Library of Russia, the State Public Historical Library, the St. Petersburg State Theatre Library, the Central Naval Library, the Vladimir Mayakovsky Central City Public Library, the Central Library System of Krasnogvardeysky District of St. Petersburg, the Belgorod State Universal Scientific Library, the Vladimir Regional Universal Scientific Library, the Don State Public Library, the Transbaikal Regional Universal Scientific Library, the Moscow Regional State Scientific Library, the National Library of the Republic of Buryatia, the National Library of the Komi Republic, the Penza Regional Library, the Penza Regional Library for Children and Youth, the Samara Regional Universal Scientific Library, the Stavropol Regional University Scientific Library, the Tula Regional Universal Scientific Library, the Central Library System of the Karabash City District (Chelyabinsk Region), the Interdistrict Centralized Library System of Plastovsky District (Chelyabinsk Region). The participating archives are the Russian State Historical Archives, the Leningrad Region State Archive in Vyborg, and the Archival Service of the Kabardino Balkar Republic. The participating higher educational institutions are St. Petersburg State University, Herzen State Pedagogical University of Russia, St. Petersburg State Institute of Culture, Rimsky-Korsakov St. Petersburg Musical College, Kostroma State University, Ural Federal University. The participating museums and scientific institutions are the State Russian Museum, the Tobolsk Historical and Architectural Museum-Reserve, the Children's Postcard Museum, the Faberge Museum, the Russian Institute of Art History. The participating theatres, cultural centres and foundations are the Chamber Musical Theatre "St. Petersburg Opera", the Chelyabinsk State Drama Chamber Theatre, the Chelyabinsk Arts Centre "Theatre + Cinema" (Theatre "Maneken"), the V. Volkhovsky Chelyabinsk State Puppet Theatre, the Miass House of Culture "Brigantina" (Chelyabinsk Region), the Cultural and Historical Foundation "Link of Times", the Yulian Semyonov Cultural Foundation, the Karl Bulla Foundation of Historical Photography. The media participants are the Russian Historical Channel, Municipal Government Institution "Capital of the Urals", Nashe Radio, PJSC Krasnaya Zvezda.

The collection currently comprises over 1,000 items.

The history of the Russian theatre can be traced back to ancient times. Slavic rites and festive occasions were accompanied by songs, dances and spells, and its participants dressed up as mythological creatures, gods, etc. Every single holiday in Rus’ involved theatrical performances, which were common at first and brought together whole villages, and developed into folk dramas over time. Skomorokhs - wandering singers, musicians, tamers, and acrobats appeared in Rus’ in the ancient past as well.

Theatre aroused genuine interest in the mid-17th century, during the reign of Alexey Mikhailovich. The tsar invited the German pastor Gregory and a troupe, which was made up of actors from different countries; the pastor was also to teach acting to the Russian youth.

The great reformer Peter I did not neglect theatre. Peter I wanted to make the theatre clear and available to people, and in 1702 he attempted to set up a public theatre.

The daughter of Peter I – Elizabeth – encouraged the development of all forms of arts, including musical theatre and drama theatre. Following the example of the empress, the nobility liked organizing masquerades, spectacles, and theatrical performances. In the mid-XVIII century, the theatre was available just in court circles. There was also the fashion for private theatres, whose actors were court servants.

A public theatre in Yaroslavl, which was founded by the merchant F. G. Volkov (1729–1763), became the first professional theatre in Russia. In 1752 by order of the empress, the theatre staged its performances in Tsarskoe Selo. In 1756 the theatre in Yaroslavl was officially named the Russian Theatre of Tragedy and Comedy. The repertoire of the theatre included Russian dramatic works (primarily Sumarokov’s plays).

Theatre art in Russia flourished under Catherine II: the empress invited foreign troupes and set up the Direction of All Court Theatres, which in different forms existed until the end of the Romanovs' reign. Two Opera Houses and a large theatre building – the future Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre (The Big Stone Theatre), were built in St. Petersburg for the educated class. The imperial theatres were guided by the tastes of the ruling monarchs and the interests of the state policy.

The tradition of home theatres was later developed by the Russian nobility: between the second half of the XVIII century and the 1840s there were more than 170 serf theatres, 53 of them were in Moscow, including theatres of Prince N. B. Yusupov (1750 – 1831) and N. P. Sheremetev (1751–1809).

Theatre in Russia was gradually conquering not only both capitals but also provincial towns. In the early XIX century, there were theatre circles, amateur and so-called soldiers’, i.e. garrison theatres, and combination companies.

Every decade of the XIX century witnessed the appearance of new theatres in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and provincial towns, as well as theatre schools in Moscow. Productions based on works of A. S. Griboyedov, N. V. Gogol, A. N. Ostrovsky and European playwrights were staged in theatres.

The Alexandrinsky Theatre was founded in St. Petersburg in 1832.

Great theatre theoreticians and practitioners appeared in Russia at the turn of the XIX and XX centuries. K. S. Stanislavsky (1863–1938) and V. I. Nemirovich-Danchenko (1858–1943) entered the world of theatre with their innovative ideas. They founded the Moscow Art Theatre, which was planned as a public theatre.

Theatre life in Russia began to develop rapidly. The Stanislavsky system was put into practice and attracted followers all over the world.

Stanislavsky discovered a galaxy of prominent directors, such as Vsevolod Meyerhold (1874–1940) and Yevgeny Vakhtangov (1883–1922), who possessed highly individualistic approaches. The Kamerny Theatre, which was closely related to the work of A. Ya. Tairov (1885–1950), was opened in 1914.

After the October Revolution, all Russian theatres came under control of the Arts Department of the State Education Commission. In 1919 theatres were nationalized.

During the Soviet epoch, the state attached considerable importance to the theatre: many theatres became academic, new theatres were set up. Ye. B. Vakhtangov took charge of the Moscow Art Theatre’s Third Studio, which was opened in Moscow in 1920 (later the Vakhtangov Theatre). At that time new theatres were founded in Moscow: the Theatre of the Revolution (1922, later renamed the Mayakovsky Theatre); the future Mossovet Theatre (1922); the Moscow Children’s Theatre (1921, was renamed the Central Children's Theatre in 1936) and in Petrograd: the Bolshoi Drama Theatre (1919) and the Theatre for Young Audiences (1922).

1932 marked a new period in theatre work with the development of socialist realism as a new method in art.

During the most difficult years of the Great Patriotic War, Soviet theatre art did not disappear. Theatres were evacuated and continued to work on the home front.

New theatrical concepts and aesthetics began to take shape after the war, in the mid-XX century and were associated with the names of G. Tovstonogov in St. Petersburg, and A. Efros in Moscow.

The post-Soviet theatre was characterized by relative ideological freedom. That period marked the appearance of theatre studios and combination companies. However, the theatre attendance fell as a result of changes in the economic policy.

The situation began to improve at the beginning of the XXI century. The Russian theatre became more diverse as regards the repertoire and productions, which were intended for all age groups and designed to meet all audience tastes. Theatres with a long history enjoyed a revival: new troupes were composed of masters and the youth. New playwrights and directors breathed new life into theatres.